17 Nov 2013

Culture, social networks and the future of public relations

Much have been said about communication and its relation to culture. Smith (1966) back in the sixties already pointed to the fact that "culture and communication are inseparable", and indeed they are. 

However, it is hard to understand why neither the communication scientific community nor communication practitioners in general have given proper attention to intercultural communication theories & frameworks in what refers to its utility in the practice of public relations across borders, which inevitably encounters a multi-cultural environment.

Culture permeates all aspects of human life and we are most likely to never perceive it. It is often quoted in cultural studies that "a fish would hardly realise the environment around it - water". The same happens to human beings when staring to its own culture which have a direct impact in the communication patterns used by and with a counter-culture. As Hall (1976) explained in his Iceberg model, most of one’s culture is unconscious. The majority of the cultural aspects each human being carries in its mind software - term crafted by Hofstede - remains unknown.  

Hofstede (2001) claims that "culture is more often a source of conflict rather than synergy". This assumption is presumably right. Nevertheless, if PR professionals dedicate sufficient effort in trying to identify & classify foreign countries as per its cultural orientations, it will consequently lead to a better understanding of the foreign target audiences to be reached, concomitantly, increasing the chances of a message being rightly understood and accepted.

In other words, what is required is to analyse the environment one is going to undertake public relations' efforts through an intercultural communication perspective. Then, after that it is important to establish a strategy to adapt/conform with the counter-culture in order to reach mutual understanding - transculturality, a middle ground between the cultures involved in the communication process, where every stakeholder involved is able to understand each other. After cultural differences and eventual conflicts are professionally managed, one should most likely encounter a state of cultural synergy.

Appropriately, Sriramesh & Verčič (2009, p. 9) add:  “Communication influences and is influenced by culture. Most definitions of the term public relations originating in the United States and Europe recognise that communication (both mass and interpersonal) is the foundation of the public relations profession”.

Reflecting on Sriramesh & Verčič statement on how communication is influenced by culture and vice-versa, it is reasonable to assert that communication processes carried out by public relations professionals in the current age of globalisation are in all probability a practice of intercultural communication.  

Therefore, it is imperative for any communication professional - specially for those within the PR industry - to develop intercultural competences and skills in order to increase success rates when communicating across cultures. This will allow a smoother relationship with the respective counterparts which are likely to come from a varied range of cultural backgrounds, each one holding different traditions, distinct ways of living, preferences and paradigms. 

Understanding cultural differences may be strategic in enhacing one's capability to interact and communicate efficiently across national borders.

The advent of internet and its increasingly important social networks have made this understanding and contact with other cultures much easier. What is basically needed for someone seeking to understand other cultures is to have the scientific knowledge to classify it (cultural studies, intercultural communication, sociology) and have a sensitive analytical view about foreign national cultures (soft skills like openness to other cultures, resiliance & flexibility).
If one has the knowledge and ability to analyse it under a sensitive critical view, it is possible to go further into the next stage of examining the communication patterns in relation to each of the cultural continua identified. Such knowledge can be acquired by executing some in-depth research into intercultural communication. 

That is certainly a ride worth taking where PR professionals have a lot to learn and much to use from intercultural communication into the traditional PR functions & practices - which is becoming inevitably an activity where it is needed to engage with stakeholders from a multitude of different cultural backgrounds.

Public relations and communication in general will soon become international-only activities - if they are not already. Even when acting local, communication & PR professionals are required to have a broad, international view of business and of the communication process - taking into consideration that with the development of internet & social media, any issue involving an organisation may generate global repercussion in a matter of minutes - if not, seconds!

To sum up, global public relations is a worldwide stakeholder engagement & relationship management activity, which deals with a multitude of cultures in a progressively more digital & social world. International public relations is about people, is about connecting and engaging with strategic stakeholders through relevant content!

Hall, E. T. (1966) Hidden dimension. New York: Anchor.
Hofstede, G. (2001) Culture’s consequences: Comparing values, behaviors, institutions, and organizations across nations2nd ed., Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, Inc.
Smith, A. (1966) Communication and culture. New York: Holt, Rinehardt and Winston.
Sriramesh, K. & Verčič, D. (2009) Global Public Relations Handbook: Theory, Research, and Practice, 2nd ed., New York, NY:  Routledge.


  1. I really enjoyed while reading this great and knowledgeable information. I appreciate you good work.
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  2. Thank you so much for your kind words, Mike! I'm glad to read you enjoyed the reading... It really keeps me motivated to keep writing :-) Keep an eye here for future posts and have a great day!